The Commerce Department reported (.pdf) that, following a downwardly revised seasonally adjusted decline of 0.1 percent in December (originally reported as a gain of 0.2 percent), retail sales in the U.S. fell 0.4 percent in January, the largest drop in ten months and the first back-to-back decline in almost two years.
Inclement weather was blamed for keeping Americans away from auto showrooms as car sales slumped, but consumers weren’t shopping as much elsewhere either as sales for only four of the thirteen major categories rose.
Excluding the 2.1 percent drop for motor vehicles and parts, sales were flat last month after a gain of 0.3 percent the month prior and, excluding both autos and gasoline, sales fell 0.2 percent after a gain of 0.1 percent.
The news would have been even worse if not for rising fuel prices that pushed gasoline station sales 1.1 percent higher. Home improvement stores were one of the few other areas where receipts were higher, up 1.4 percent in January, as rising real estate prices over the last year or so have encouraged spending in this area.
After autos, declines were led by department stores where sales fell 1.5 percent and sporting goods stores where receipts were 1.4 percent lower. Elsewhere, sales saw modest, but broad-based declines averaging about one half percent.